No matter where you are located, I am sure the coronavirus pandemic has affected you in some ways – logistically, physically, emotionally, or mentally.
We all know what we have to do physically to protect ourselves. We know that we have to wash our hands properly (as shown in this WHO video), that we have to keep at least three feet distance from other people and that we have to avoid crowded places.
We know that we have to cover our mouths and noses with a tissue when we cough or sneeze, that we must not touch our faces, and that we must isolate ourselves when we feel ill. We are keeping our supplies ready, and many of us are working from home to avoid infection with the new virus.
Even the word “pandemic” can trigger feelings of anxiety
But what do we do about the fear many of us are experiencing in these days? Even the word “pandemic” can trigger feelings of anxiety, and a quick glance at the news is frightening: photos of crowded hospitals, stories of people dying and thousands being quarantined, and news of the lockdown of entire countries.
We worry about our health and about our loved ones, who might be even more vulnerable. We may also be worried about our future because the virus has caused enormous economic instability.
So let’s look at some simple steps we can take to take care of our mental health during the current coronavirus pandemic.
Avoid alarmism and panic
Panic is almost inevitable in a global crisis because it is human nature to panic. But it is almost always of little help. If you are panicking, you are at risk of behaving irrationally. This, in turn, creates more panic – and the whole thing becomes a vicious circle.
Therefore, try to keep an eye on your information sources. Alarmism and misinformation lead to the kind of fear and panic that is often worse than the cause of a crisis itself. Silence any source of fake news and avoid clicking on alarming headlines.
To stay informed about important developments, refer to the World Health Organization or other reliable sources such as the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
Also, make sure to keep your mind from constant stress. Instead of always watching the latest news, watch a comedy series or download a feel-good movie. Maybe it’s finally time for that long-delayed handicraft project or that novel you got for Christmas? The important thing is to focus your mind on something stable and positive.
Accept and welcome your fear
But what if watching a funny movie or needlework can’t prevent your mind from racing with worrying thoughts? Here avoidance strategies often don’t help and only lead to additional stress. Any attempts to avoid or fight your current unwanted thoughts or emotions tell your brain that you are being threatened, triggering your innate survival response. This reaction leaves you mentally and physically alert as your mind prepares you to fight or flight.
What you should do instead is to accept and then even to welcome your unwanted thoughts, emotions, and sensations. I know it may sound a bit crazy. Why should you give in to something that makes you feel anxious?
The truth is that opening up to your current experience is the most helpful response when you are in an anxious or stressed state. When you accept and welcome your anxiety, it will stop taking center stage. You’ll realize that these thoughts are not enemies that need to be attacked, which has a profoundly calming effect or your mind and your anxious feelings.
Welcoming is really nothing new because we do it in everyday life. In normal times, when you greet a friend, you move towards him, make eye contact, and offer him some friendly gesture, like a handshake, a kiss, or a verbal greeting. These simple actions stem from your evolutionary heritage. They tell your brain that you are safe, which leaves you mentally and physically relaxed.
How to apply acceptance and welcoming?
A simple and direct way is to label the thoughts first and then to welcome them, such as “Hello, worried-about-my-health thought, you’re back tonight” or “Hi, afraid-of-losing-my-job fear, you’re here again.”
If welcoming is too much to bear, you can also say: “I’m having a thought about the Corona pandemic again” or “I’m having a thought about losing my job.”
The act of accepting creates the much-needed distance and objectivity that enable you to look at your thoughts and emotions and put them into context. You respect the fact that they are a product of your mind, but you have the mental clarity to acknowledge that they’re not the literal truth.
How to deal with loneliness?
Many of us work from home, either because the offices are closed as a precaution or because some of us need to isolate ourselves. Although it may sound appealing at first not to have to go to work, both scenarios can be incredibly lonely. Being alone often can stir up a lot of uncomfortable feelings, such as fear and stress.
Here are some ideas about how to deal with loneliness.
- If you work from home, make sure you talk to colleagues and friends regularly. These are times where social media can be used for what it was originally intended for – human connection.
- Go out into the fresh air once a day and, if possible, to a park or open field. Even though you may still be alone, seeing other people interact with each other and smile at strangers can improve your mood and make you feel part of the community.
- If you need to isolate yourself because you have symptoms like coughing or fever, you may not have direct contact with other people for several days. The lack of any physical contact can be overwhelming, but certain things can help. A weighted blanket is supposed to mimic the feeling of a hug, and it has been proven to relieve anxiety and make sleep easier.
- Similarly, a facial massage or a hand massage (wash your hands thoroughly beforehand) can help to reconnect the mind and body and bring them into the physical space.
Let’s learn from Italy
Italy is currently the country that officially records the highest corona infection rate after China. The country is completely locked down, and silence has settled over cities like Rome, Venice, Milan, and Florence, which are otherwise bursting with culture, energy, and life.
All Italiens are urged not to leave their homes. A big challenge in a country where physical contact usually is very important, and people like to hug each other for a greeting.
However, people are now finding other ways to give each other comfort and courage. Watch this video: Whole families gather on balconies and sing songs such as the national anthem “Fratelli d’Italia” or “Azzuro” by Adriano Celentano. Their melody moves through the street and fills it for a few moments with hopeful liveliness. People sing to say: We are here. We are in this together.
Andrà tutto bene
And they’re showing their gratitude to the sacrifices and commitment of the public health workers and medical professionals who are on the front lines right now. Every day around noon, you can hear loud collective applause that comes from terraces, balconies, and open windows.
And then some rainbows now appear in many windows. Often they are painted by children and inscribed with the words “Andrà tutto bene” – “All it’s gonna be okay.”
I think it is such a beautiful response of people to the fact that they can no longer give each other comfort and courage through regular physical contact. These actions lead the individual, who otherwise might be sitting alone and lonely in their home, back into the dimension of community, despite all spatial separations.
Yes, we’ll probably see many cities quarantined. And yes, it will prevent our freedom of movement and choices that we are so used to. Remember that more than 95% of people recover from this virus, so it’s mostly about the fear and the inconveniences it’s creating in our lives.
Please know that you’re not alone and that, most importantly, this is temporary. Remember, whatever is yet to come – we can handle this – or “Andrà tutto bene”!
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- How to Self-Heal Anxiety and Depression
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